Editorial ~ 2005: February


This month we give our views on the BBC and the Bands; YBS and the European Saga and the Regional test pieces.

The Beeb and Bands

Following the tremendous success of the recent RNCM Festival of Brass series of concerts (both artistically and financially it appears), it was refreshing to note that the BBC would in fact be airing a programme covering the event on the 9th February between 19.00 hours and 21.30 hours, entitled ‘Performance on Radio 3'.

Coverage by the nations broadcaster is always welcome, but it isn't churlish to suggest that instead of being grateful, we should be more than a little annoyed that the institution is not actually broadcasting much more of this event and of brass music in particular.

The powers that be at the BBC seem to regard brass bands as not just a minority interest (that is fair enough), but also a minority interest that lacks quality (which certainly isn't). The reason we are told to why we hear little or no output on the so called ‘serious' music station of Radio 3 is not because it would attract a proportionately small audience, but because why do not have sufficient quality original music to justify our place on it. Those present at Manchester can attest to the fact that the quality, both in performance and of the music played was there in spades. 

A concerted approach is therefore needed to try and ensure that this is addressed. Paul Hindmarsh has been a valuable and committed advocate for brass music at the BBC (and we should thank him again for persuading Roger Wright to cover the RNCM event this year), but in all honesty the people we should be trying to convert to accepting brass band music as a genuinely world class form of artistic entertainment are those a little further up the greasy pole of media land.

These are the real powers that be – the glitterati of the London based media; the so called movers and shakers, opinion makers who have made themselves self important on the back of contracted out programme making (just look or listen to just about any half hour programme on the BBC, and you will find that they now nearly all ‘independent' productions).

So with the success of Manchester fresh in our minds, why not send an email or a letter or even a telephone call to Radio 3 and start putting a bit of well overdue pressure on those who have forgotten us for far too long.  We will be doing ours straight away.

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YBS and the European Saga

Will the problems of the European Championships ever be resolved? The news that the reigning champions, the newly christened YBS Band would not be competing in Groningen in April will have come as a body blow to EBBA at a time when more than any other, it needed to show the world that the event was as strong as ever.

That YBS should not wish to accept their invitation to compete is of course a matter for them, and them alone, but it does not take a brain surgeon to work out that when a band such as this loses its sponsor after a decade of support, financial, rather than musical considerations will dictate whether or not they attend an expensive overseas event.

It is of course a major disappointment, but it should also serve to show that the success of the Europeans is far more about whether or not one band decides to compete or not – even if it is the six times unbeaten champions.  The European Brass Band Championship must be bigger than any individual band.
With no resolution to the European dispute seemingly on the horizon, this years EBBA event takes on even greater significance. The rather futile questions of whether or not YBS should be allowed to compete in 2006, or whether or not the 2005 is devalued by them not being there misses the point somewhat.

EBBA needs to show that even with a reduced field of bands, the 2005 European Championships in their hands is still an event that is moving forward, increasing in importance and creating more interest in brass banding than ever before throughout the European continent. If that is hopefully the case, then it will strengthen their position in whatever negotiations need to take place to ensure that in the future there remains just the one, unique European Championship Festival. If they do not, then whether or not YBS were there, the EBBA European Brass Band Championships could well be listening out for the first knocks of its death knell.  

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The Regional Test Pieces

With the start of the compact rounds of the Regional Championships less than a month away, the varying murmurs of pleasure or discontent have already filtered their way out of  rehearsal rooms and into the pubs, committee rooms and websites of the competing bands. 

You cannot please everyone all of the time, but it seems this year, the Music Panel that chose the five pieces to be played didn't possibly bank on the kind of reception their choices have copped.  

The reason is that with the exception of the top two sections, the rest are just too difficult for the vast majority of bands to play, and as a result not only will too many contests be undermined by poor quality musical performances, but also, and more tellingly, by the fact that a great number of lower section bands are having serious doubts to whether or not they can attend the contest as they simply cannot play the pieces.

The verdict on the selections for 2005 is well meaning selections that are undermined by their inappropriateness.  

The Overture to the Opera ‘Rienzi' is a nice old pot boiler given a skilful make over, but a test piece for potentially the best bands in the country? Not only will those very best bands find it difficult to impose their quality on this limited transcription, but the adjudicators task will also have been made much more difficult.

Last year, our most eminent judge, David Read stated that there was now a move at the top most level of adjudicating to reward those bands who produce warm, broad and balanced sounds – the essentials of good brass band playing. But, will the top class bands who do this, get the nod on this lung burster come results time? We will wait with baited breath to see if warm, broad and balanced will be usurped by cold, loud and strident. 

‘Comedy' should suit the bands in the First Section hoping to show their qualities, as it is still a piece of demanding musicality, whilst ‘Divertimento' in the Fourth is a very stern test indeed for bands who are usually full of very young inexperienced players. It is expecting a lot from them to produce quality accounts of this test, although it should have proved an enjoyable piece to rehearse.   

It is the two in-between though that cause greatest concern.

'Variations for Brass Band' and ‘Tam O'Shanter's Ride' are fine pieces of music, even though both are nearly 50 years old. Unlike others of that era, time has not wearied them though and they are still demanding test pieces for bands at a very much higher level. We could well hear too many truly horrible performances, no fault of the MDs or performers, but the fault of those who thought they were now eminently playable at this level.  They are not.

It all adds up to a series of choices that with the exception of ‘Comedy' do not do give the competing bands tests worthy of their talents. This has been a selection of good intentions, badly thought out.

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